A rural expatriate's struggle to reconcile family, home, love, and faith with the silence of the prairie land and its people
Melanie Hoffert longs for her North Dakota childhood home, with its grain trucks and empty main streets. A land where she imagines standing at the bottom of the ancient lake that preceded the prairie: crop rows become the patterned sand ripples of the lake floor; trees are the large alien plants reaching for the light; and the sky is the water’s vast surface, reflecting the sun. Like most rural kids, she followed the out-migration pattern to a better life. The prairie is a hard place to stay—particularly if you are gay, and your home state is the last to know.
For Hoffert, returning home has not been easy. When the farmers ask if she’s found a “fella,” rather than explain that—actually—she dates women, she stops breathing and changes the subject. Meanwhile, as time passes, her hometown continues to lose more buildings to decay, growing to resemble the mouth of an old woman missing teeth. This loss prompts Hoffert to take a break from the city and spend a harvest season at her family’s farm. While home, working alongside her dad in the shop and listening to her mom warn, “Honey, you do not want to be a farmer,” Hoffert meets the people of the prairie. Her stories about returning home and exploring abandoned towns are woven into a coming-of-age tale about falling in love, making peace with faith, and belonging to a place where neighbors are as close as blood but are often unable to share their deepest truths.
In this evocative memoir, Hoffert offers a deeply personal and poignant meditation on land and community, taking readers on a journey of self-acceptance and reconciliation.
Click here to listen to a commentary on marriage equality in Minnesota by Hoffert on Minnesota Public Radio
Click here to see Shelf Awareness feature the Prairie Silence trailer on its website on December 20, 2012.
Click here to listen to Hoffert on Minnesota Public Radio's "Lake Effect."
Review By: Margaret Flanagan, Booklist - December 1, 2012
"A heartfelt coming-out story as well as an eloquent elegy to a rural way of life that is rapidly vanishing from the American landscape."
Review Kirkus Reviews - October 1, 2012
"The author's mostly quiet narrative includes a wealth of haunting images and ideas that will linger long after the last sentence. A heartfelt love song to a place and its people as well as an honest and rewarding rendering of the author's interior landscape."
Review By: Julie Foster, Minneapolis Star Tribune - January 5, 2013
"Hoffert's bittersweet and compelling memoir recalls her struggles at ending her silence and creating a fuller life for herself."
Review St. Paul Pioneer Press - January 6, 2013
" 'Over the last ten years I have been trying to resolve a seemingly simple dilemma: how to tell the state of North Dakota that I am gay.' That's the heart of this involving memoir by a woman who grew up on a farm near Wyndmere, N.D."
“In Prairie Silence, Melanie Hoffert shows how the landscapes of our childhood continue to speak to us, and through us, long after we've left them behind. In this beautifully written and deeply imagined memoir, Hoffert invites us back to her North Dakota farming community for a season of harvest, a personal journey of profound courage and grace.”
—Judy Blunt, author of Breaking Clean
"Melanie Hoffert has written a gutsy, complicated book about the little town we both came from (but which she experienced in a much, much different way).”
—Chuck Klosterman, author of Downtown Owl and The Visible Man
"The quiet, lyric prose of Melanie Hoffert's Prairie Silence crept into my days, making it impossible for me to stop turning pages. This book is about looking for oneself in places we are so often afraid to venture. A beautiful debut from a brave new writer."
—Claire Bidwell Smith, author of The Rules of Inheritance